- Also known as: Samhuin, Oidhche Shamhna, Halloween, Hallowmass, Third Harvest, Day of the Dead
- Pronounced: SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SOW-een
- 31st October or 1st November (Northern Hemisphere)
- 30th April or 1st May (Southern Hemisphere)
- 15 degrees Scorpio
- Honoring Ancestors
And finally the Wheel turns to Samhain, the witches favourite holiday. This is the time of year where I let my inner crushed velvet wearing, broom hopping witch out and have some fun but the ability to get ones pointy hat out is only part of the reason that I and many others enjoy the season.
Of all the celebrations Samhain is possibly the most popular amongst the pagan community. It is one of the four Greater Sabbats and whilst the commercialism is often presented as the bane of the pagan community the sword cuts both ways. Samhain is the season where the veil between the world of the living and the realm of spirits is at its thinnest and it is possible to catch visions of that world beyond world’s just that little bit easier.
Samhain marks the third and final of the harvests and the point at which the world slips from autumn to winter. Nature has reached her final, visible death throws with the trees laid bear and the soil standing barren. The air is cold and crisp and animals are getting in their final winter stores prepared even as the final harvest is being gathered. The potential for new life in the spring remains but it is far from evident in the world around us and our thoughts are inevitably drawn to matters of death and decline.
This is the time where we review what has past and allow ourselves the opportunity to both discard and move on from the things that have held us back but also give thanks for the abundance and good fortune that we have experienced. We might be entering into the darkest times but those bright memories will keep us warm for many months to come.
Samhain is a twin celebration to Beltane and both are times when the veil between the world of the living and the dead are perceived as being weak. Samhain is particularly associated with the Dead because it stands at the start of the dark portion of the year. This marks it as a point of power both for those who practice Witchcraft and work with the Dead and many cultures who celebrate festivals of the dead do so around this time of the year, the most famous being Día de Muertos (the Day of Dead). It should be no surprise then that neo-Pagan associate the season with the decline and death of deity.
In the cycle of the solar year Samhain represents the Sun God in his weakest iteration yet. Weighed down with eld in one variation of the story he hovers on the verge of passing, dying on the eve of Yule for his son-self to be born to the Goddess during Imbolc. In alternative tellings it is at Samhain that he descends into the Underworld to rest and restore himself ahead of his rebirth at Yule.
The Goddess herself enters a period of deep mourning for decline / loss of her beloved. The life of the land reflects her grief as the barren season descends upon us. This season is also referred to as the season of the Crone, the aspect ascribed to the Goddess at this time. The Crone is the old wise woman, teaching us about the inevitability of life and death, but she is also the pregnant Maiden in waiting with new life blooming deep within her waiting for the spring.
The history of Halloween / Samhain is deep and oft times murky and rather than attempt to reprise it here I direct the dear reader to my very brief history of Halloween.
Honouring the Ancestors is often the centre of any Samhain ritual, particular the solitary ritual. Creating shrines and altars containing images of those who have gone before as well any belongings of theirs you may have is the most usual form that such things take. Offerings of favourite foods and drinks are appropriate, as is candle lighting and reminiscing on fond memories. Things can be made more formal in a ritual setting, with appropriate invocations to the ancestors.
If you don’t feel you can work with your ancestors look to the ancestors of the Craft. In the last few years we have lost some notable early pioneers of the witchcraft revival and as the Egyptians (sort of) said, a name remembered is a name eternal. If you do want to work with Ancestors but feel that you may find it hard to engage with them it is worth putting in the effort at establishing working lines of communication.
Jack o’ Lanterns are a commercial must at this time of year. Traditionally made of a turnip with a coal in the centre to scare away the devil and his minions on Samhain night immigrants to America found it much easier to carve pumpkins. I personally hate carving either! I’d much rather turn a good pumpkin into soup or some other yummy dish, and I don’t trust the kids with sharp objects so paper pumpkins are my prefered alternative. Here are a couple of suggestions;
Paper Jack o’Lanterns – to add a light cut a circle with a minimum of three extending tabs to fit the bottom of the lanterns using the same card as the body of the pumpkin. Once secures with glue, tape or staples, place an electric tea light in the bottom.
An alternative craft, which mirrors the ancestor shrine as described above, which children might enjoy at this time of year is making an Ancestor mobile. There are any number of ways to make a basic mobile but for this idea you will also need photographs of your beloved ancestors. I usually add small photographs and a little information about each individual to the back of card ghosts but you can use any colours or shapes you prefer. This is a good way to form conversations about ancestors my children have never known so they can use it to form in their mind a family tree.